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Five Storylines: No. 12 Ohio State women’s basketball vs. No. 25 Penn State

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions open up Big Ten campaigns with teams coming off opposite weeks.

Penn State v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

It’s time for Ohio State women’s basketball to dip its collective toe into conference play. Up first are the Penn State Nittany Lions, a team that’s sat in the backseat of the conference for most of the last decade. Now, the matchup between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions features a Penn State side that’s showing glimpses of its dominant form of years past.

Before Sunday’s 1:00 p.m. ET tipoff at the Schottenstein Center, here are five storylines to watch for in the conference clash.

Guard Battle

There are three matchups to watch especially close when these two teams take to the court. The first is a two-on-two guard battle. For Penn State, First Team All-B1G guard Makenna Marisa leads the Nittany Lions alongside guard Shay Ciezki.

The two share similar traits, albeit on different ends of their college careers. Marisa is the lifelong Nittany Lion. The sister, daughter and granddaughter of Penn State basketball players, Marisa is a graduate senior who's everything for this Lions team.

Marisa leads the Nittany Lions in scoring (16.0 points per game) and has for the past three seasons. The guard is dangerous from deep and will attack the basket. Last season, the Buckeyes thought they neutralized Marisa in their lone meeting with the Nittany Lions. After three quarters, the guard had four points. In the fourth quarter, with Ohio State up 51-31, Marisa went off.

The guard scored 18 points in the final 10 minutes, outscoring the scarlet and gray by two points. It didn’t end in a Penn State comeback victory, still losing by 12 points, but it showed that Marisa can’t be underestimated at any point in the 40 minute contest. Plus, now she has a strong supporting cast.

Ciezki is a high scoring sophomore. In the last four games before Penn State’s defeat to the West Virginia Mountaineers, Ciezki averaged 19.3 points per game, averaging 3.5 shots made from three-point range. The Buffalo, New York native is the second most dangerous shooter on the Nittany Lions, but has shown traits of an underclassmen scorer.

Monday, against West Virginia, Ciezki was completely shutdown by the Mountaineers. Picking up four fouls, Ciezki played only 22 minutes, scoring no points on four missed shots. That was against a WVU side that defended similarly to how the Buckeyes will defend: On the press.

Marisa and Ciezki have their work cut out for them going up against guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor. The pair of graduate seniors are fifth and sixth respectively in steals in the Big Ten so far this season. It’s not only the number of times they change possession, but how ruthless they can be on defense.

It’s likely that Marisa and Ciezki won’t have much room to breathe when they get into the half court. That means the Nittany Lions will try their best to use screens to create mismatches. It’s not going to be easy to do though with Taylor especially.

Ohio State’s defense is stronger this year and its due in part to the work put in by the former Duke guard. Taylor, likely going up against Marisa, isn’t going to give the star much of anything. Every game, Taylor presses on the half court, barely giving opposition time to think. Plus the steals and at least one highlight block per game.

However, there’s strong defense in other areas of the court, especially in the third matchup to watch between two staunch defenders.

Power Around the Perimeter

While the experience of Sheldon and Taylor gives a distinct advantage around the arc, the most intriguing clash might be inside the paint between guard/forwards Taylor Thierry and Leilani Kapinus.

Both part of the coaches Big Ten All-Defensive Team in the 22-23 season, the two play a similar style of basketball.

Each are tall and athletic, and can crash the boards. In two games that the junior Kapinus faced the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lion has two double-doubles, with 12 and 11 rebounds in the two contests. While offensively Kapinus won’t stretch the half court like Theirry who will take a shot from deep, the Penn State guard will make driving to the paint difficult for the likes of Buckeye forward Cotie McMahon. Here’s a good example:

Also, Thierry’s on a slower run of rebounding, with two quieter games in a row. Against the Tennessee Volunteers, the guard/forward hybrid who averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds going into the game scored nine points with four rebounds. Against the Ohio Bobcats Tuesday, Thierry had another four-rebound game, but had a better scoring game with 15 points.

Will Thierry’s early game form return over more of the 40 minutes with Kapinus providing more of a challenge?

Does Emma Shumate Continue Her Tear?

A name seen frequently off the bench last season for Ohio State was guard Emma Shumate. Appearing 31 times, the guard brought promise of big shooting which didn't manifest. Although Shumate led the team in blocks, the offense was behind the defense.

This season, the sophomore is a new person, thanks to increased confidence instilled in her by her teammates. Now, Shumate is leading the Buckeyes from deep. With 15 made three-point shots on the year, the guard who averages the ninth lowest number of minutes per game on the 15-player roster is in the best form.

However, she hasn’t had the chance in the biggest games. Against the USC Trojans, Shumate didn’t dress with an injury. Then, on Sunday, after going 5-for-11 from deep in the previous two games, only saw two minutes of game time against the Tennessee Volunteers.

Shumate responded against Ohio, having her best shooting game of her career, going 6-for-10. It’s what head coach Kevin McGuff wants to see more of if Shumate wants to see minutes against tougher competition.

“We’ve seen her do this a lot in practice and this,” said McGuff. “Now she’s starting to do it in games, and just to have confidence in herself. Because I’m confident in her right now, I want her to have confidence in herself.”

Does that mean she’ll have that chance against the Nittany Lions on Sunday?

Can Penn State Handle Defensive Heat?

Monday, Penn State was back in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in almost 10 years. The Nittany Lions were 7-1, with one close loss to the USC Trojans, and riding strong momentum. Then they ran into the West Virginia Mountaineers.

The Nittany Lions were mauled in Morgantown. The Mountaineers played with a full court press that stretched into the half court and forced Penn State’s worst game of the season. Head coach Carolyn Kieger’s Lions gave up season highs in turnovers (26) and steals allowed (18).

Ohio State averages 21.9 turnovers forced per game. Penn State isn’t going to have a break following its 83-65 defeat against the Big 12 side. Does that mean the Nittany Lions know what they did wrong and can adjust to a team whose defensive identity is tied up in the full court, havoc-inducing, press or will Ohio State continue a nightmarish week for the Lions?

Ashley Owusu Premiere?

Arguably one of the biggest mysteries in college basketball is the status of guard Ashley Owusu. The former AP All-American, who started her NCAA career in the Big Ten with the Maryland Terrapins, has had an interesting two seasons in college basketball.

Following her junior year, Owusu transferred to the Virginia Tech Hokies, making it to the Final Four. However, it wasn’t with Owusu contributing on the court. After starting six games for the Hokies, Owusu was out with an injury. Then, after she returned, she never started or made the same impact. Questions surrounded head coach Kenny Brooks and if Owusu fell out of favor after returning to the team.

Owusu averaged five minutes per game in her final six games as a Hokie, and no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. So, when the guard transferred back to the Big Ten and the Penn State Nittany Lions, it looked like a chance for the graduate senior to find her previous form.

However, Owusu hasn’t played a minute this season. Coach Kieger says Owusu is out with an undisclosed injury, although the guard is warming up for the Nittany Lions before games. It’s a situation shrouded in secrecy. If healthy, getting minutes against the Buckeyes would be a surprise and potentially game-changing.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The guard has 55 points in her last two games against the Buckeyes, in the 20-21 and 21-22 seasons. It’s also unknown how her presence could increase the effectiveness of the likes of Marisa, Ciezki and Kapinus.

While it doesn’t seem likely that Owusu plays, based on no concrete information shared by the team, if she does, Sunday could be much more interesting.